A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Some Quick Takes from the Day After the Party

The Party's over, and today the partiers cleaned up Tahrir Square and scrubbed the lions on Qasr al-Nil bridge. That's a sign of the new, self-reliant young Egyptian in itself. More importantly, since what happens next is in the hands of the Higher Military Council, we got a few clues about their thinking. The statement that Egypt will honor all international obligations and treaties got most of the coverage in the United States and Israel, but they also promised to move towards genuinely free and democratic elections. That's the good news.

What they did not do is lift the State of Emergency. The generals are naturally security conscious, but until the State of Emergency is lifted, I think there will be a grain of suspicion in the mind of the demonstrators. And while they promised free and democratic elections, they gave no timetable. But whatever the generals may think, I really don't think this could be 1952 all over again, when the Army promises much but keeps power for itself. 1952 was a classic, seize-the-radio-station putsch, while this was a case of the Army refusing to stop a popular revolution. (I suspect the generals doubted a conscript Army would fire on their own.) Secondly, in 1952, you could seize the radio station. Even the complete shutdown of the Internet in Egypt did not stop people from getting posts to Twitter and Facebook, even through methods like using old dialup connections in Europe. It isn't 1952 any more. The Army may end up playing a Turkish-style role as guarantor of the system, but I really think they can't hijack the victory won in the streets. Perhaps I'm overly romantic.

But that raises another question. I keep seeing media backgrounders indicating that the Higher Military Council is headed by Field Marshal Tantawi, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Enan, etc., but the last picture I saw of them was at the meeting on Thursday that issued "Communique Number 1." Obviously something changed after Mubarak's speech Thursday night and the Army pushed harder on Friday. So far as I can tell, all the statements are being read by a man in the eagle and crossed swords of a Major General. That may seem high ranking for a spokesman, but Egypt has a lot of Major Generals. I once had one serve as my driver, in uniform, and he changed his own flat tire. (Do US Major Generals change their own flats?)

But this Major General (I don't know if he's been identified by name) is the visible face of the Military Council. Here is Communique Number 4:

I haven't seen any TV shots of Tantawi or Enan since Thursday.Why, if they're running the country? Maybe I'm being a little paranoid, but it's a question I haven't seen much commented upon. Perhaps tomorrow.

Note that I won't be posting a lot over the weekend, but will comment as needed.


David Mack said...

The visible face and the voice of real authority. Along with saying the right things about eventual elections, a civilian government and observance of international agreements, his tone and speaking style convey, "We are in charge for now. Don't mess with us." So far, I think that our $1.3 billion a year was a good investment.

Anonymous said...

"And while they promised free and democratic elections, they gave no timetable."

From what I've read (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/62dyzgx), the military has said that elections will be held in 6 months.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

they gave the six month commitment in communique five. This post went up before that, after communique four.

Anonymous said...

Ah ha, good stuff.

Really enjoy your posts, thanks for blogging!